Maybe the egos are big because the salaries are small? #academicbullies

19/04/2022

Despite being a woman in academia, I have noticed that it has become all too common to allow or accept ‘white male’ bashing in academic meetings and I am starting to become rather exhausted with it all. Not all white males are the same and they are not some homogenous mass of identical archetypes. We are all individuals, and we all have different backgrounds and experiences. On top of that, many of us stem from different social classes, even if we appear ‘privileged’. I find social class is a concept often devoid of any or much attention in EDI discussions. I’m married to a white male who is from a working-class background / town and I’ve felt tired of hearing from so many colleagues that he is innately privileged and oppressive due to his race and biological sex. That he somehow automatically occupies a position of power in our society? He doesn’t. Also – what about the fact he grew up in poverty? There is nothing that I hear from other academics that corresponds to his reality, only abstract fictions or diatribes against a select elite of white males that have absolutely nothing to do with the working class. I myself have humble origins, but nothing compared to my husband. I’m incredibly supportive of EDI, but please in future can we be more conscious of the inequalities produced by social class and not single out any one race or sex for targeted insults and jokes. That would appear to me to be the opposite of ‘progressive’.

04/01/2022

I had one of the most successful research groups in the Faculty and built up extensive on-campus research facilities over many years. The Head of School tried to force me to move all my research facilities off campus in an almost derelict industrial unit many miles away and with no public transport links. I obviously didn’t want to accept poorer facilities than I already had so did not support this plan. As a result the Head of School told me that ‘my research could go to hell’ and did everything to prevent the smooth operation of my research group and this also despicably prevented deserved support and promotion for research staff in my group. UCU was a complete waste of time and would only provide ineffective local support.

The Head of School and the Faculty PVC created a bullying culture which became extremely toxic during this period. Anyone that criticised the direction of the School in email discussions were summoned and given a warning of disciplinary action. Myself and a colleague were threated in this way and at least three other Professors were also threatened. A group of around 12 Professors in the School formed a group to share concerns about the leadership and bullying in the School and Faculty and made representations to the VC. This fell on deaf ears and in fact hardened the stance of the School against those individuals. The bullying of myself and my research team continued and I was forced to resign and move all my group to another University (and terminated UCU membership). 

22/12/2021

I have experienced a lot of sexism in my current role. This has ranged from fairly benevolent sexism –  e.g. compliments on how organised I am at the same time as praising male colleagues for their intellectual prowess, thanking me for the catering at events, talking about projects I’m leading on as if they are joint projects, comments about jobs women are particularly good at (organising things) – to the less benevolent – e.g. talking over me, getting angry when I politely tell them I already know about the subject they’re telling me about, questioning why I’m leading projects – to the definitely dodgy e.g. invading my personal space/standing too close behind me, looking down my top/at my breasts when talking to me – to sexual harassment by a senior colleague over a period of several months.

I have complained about some but not all of these issues to HR, line managers and senior management. Routinely though sympathy is expressed there is little or no action proposed or taken to address them. Any action taken seems to be on the basis that they are one-off issues or a misunderstanding or disagreement rather than part of a wider pattern of behaviour – even when there are multiple complaints against the same person. They are not seen as a problem with the research culture in this part of the University that needs to be addressed and changed.

There also seems to be a lack of understanding (or an unwillingness to understand) the emotional. mental and physical health impacts of these sexist and harassing behaviours on the people (mainly women) experiencing them, particularly if it’s over a long period of time, even though these impacts are well researched, documented and described. HR and managers do not see themselves or the University as responsible for the health and safety of their employees and they push the responsibility back onto the person who experienced the harassment.

Finally, there also seems to be a lack of understanding of power dynamics and the power imbalances that are often present in these interactions – where the harasser (or sexist commenter) usually has more power because they are in a majority, in a senior position or in a position to hire and fire. There are inherent difficulties in managing and reporting inappropriate behaviour when it is from a senior, white, male colleague and reasonable fears of retaliation. This makes the lack of action and support when you do report them even more distressing.

Guidance about how to create inclusive and safe environments and cultures for energy research would be welcomed, particularly if there was a mechanism for Universities to sign-up to and agree to include and monitor these guidelines in EDI plans in energy research.

21/12/2021

Started a PhD with a well-known academic. What I didn’t know (but it was clear everyone else had known) was that this person’s reputation for being difficult to work with was extremely well-deserved. 

There was gaslighting, tantrums, the full gamut of outrageous behaviours, including outright lying in my annual review.

Fortunately I had some training in dealing with this from having been a union steward in a previous occupation, but even then, without the support of my wife, and some key people within the university, I would not have survived (I mean literally). I switched supervisors, after a struggle, and managed to get it written, and passed my viva with minor corrections.

I got through because I was lucky, and there were decent people within ‘the system’ who knew what was going on.

That said I would fully support the comment I’ve just read – institutions (and not *just* the HR departments) are much more concerned about their reputations than the well-being of junior members of staff (PhD students, ECRs). Therefore, the advice given is the same.

  1. a) keep emails
  2. b) keep contemporaneous records of what has happened, inappropriate comments and behaviours (even if it is just you recording things on your phone afterwards as an mp4 – you can always go back and transcribe it later)
  3. c) don’t see yourself as a serf, tied to a particular lord. We are not in a feudal situation (yet).

Specifically, I would say:

  1. a) don’t let the people you complain to fob you off with claims about “oh, the funding for your PhD is tied to this particular project, therefore you can’t have a new supervisor” and the like.
  2. b) read up on narcissistic personality disorder, and if you suspect that is what you are dealing with i) you’re probably right and ii) they ain’t gonna change, especially if they are indulged/protected by the university management
  3. c) maintain a support network of people, both within and BEYOND academia.

Academia has its rewards, its upsides, even when it is precarious and self-exploity. Compared to production line/gig economy horrors, it’s much, much better. But that doesn’t mean you have to put up with bullying and intimidation.

21/12/2021

I was recruited for a job in competition with an internal candidate and within a close-knit team. The bullying behaviour started nearly instantly and a grievance process was initiated within the academic institution. I didn’t feel at all supported, especially as I was not allowed to talk to anyone about the situation while still having to work with all of the people involved. I find academic institutions are incredibly backwards in their dealing with difficult behaviour with systemic and structural obstacles preventing decisive action and support for victims. Not to mention EDI generally. One kind word: solidarity. Whatever you are going through, you are not alone.

16/12/2021

Having been through a process whereby a formal complaint was brought against a research team leader I would like to share a number of observations, if nothing else, that it might help others who happen to feel rather powerless and alone.

The abusive pattern of behaviour was longstanding, and became more of a challenge to deal with due to mood and outlook swings; one never knew who would ‘turn up’ on a Monday morning – the good cop or the bad cop. After having suffered with years of occasional late-night emails that demanded action or else or demeaned the work and worth of colleagues it was an eventual case of ‘we can’t go on like this’ that a colleague forwarded a set of emails to the Head of the Department who then raised a formal complaint.

This triggered a process that seemed to focus more on following protocol rather than providing much support for the individuals who were bullied or harassed. Eventually the team leader retired, and thus their ability to bully or harass junior members of a research group (or staff) ultimately stopped.

However, looking back, a few observations from this individual case that may help others:

1) It was difficult to talk to people outside of the research group about what was going on, because they found find it pretty unbelievable about what was happening, i.e., so far beyond the norms that exist within academic institutes, it was really hard for them to relate to the actions of the research group leader.

2) HR are not employed to give your outlook more weight just because you are the victim of bullying and harassment. They are employed to follow process, and by and large, this means favouring the institution rather than the person being harassed. Therefore, do not be surprised if a formal process feels largely disappointing on the process or indeed the outcome.

3) Keep all emails, and although it sometimes feels hard to do, keep a note of dates / times of unpleasant behaviour to you or others. During the formal process, there was a fact-finding process to determine whether there was a pattern of behaviour. This influences how HR, and importantly how a peer group panel will view the behaviour.

4) Institutions seem to care more about institutional reputation, rather than victim support. This is a really tricky area, as there would seem to be a tension between whistleblowing outside of the institution and allowing institutions to investigate allegations themselves.

5) There are so many decent people in academia, it helps when they are able to shine a light on unacceptable behaviour.

Academia is a wonderful environment full of talented individuals, but on occasion, things can go wrong for a number of reasons. It is difficult to know how widespread bullying and harassment is throughout academia in this or other countries, so I applaud the Amplify’s aim to bring a channel to voice opinions on this important area.

07/12/2021

My male chemistry teacher (a large, ex-rugby player) at school regularly groped me in lessons and made inappropriate sexual comments when I was doing my O levels and so I gave up chemistry. But when I finished my degree, my job involved modelling atmospheric chemistry related to forecasting air pollution and I couldn’t understand the terminology. My team leader was very supportive and suggested that I go back to school and do A level chemistry to bring me up to speed and enable me to do my job better. I went back to night school funded by the employer and did A level Chemistry in 1 year and got a B and it has been extremely useful in my career since. I valued this because he was: a supportive and flexible manager; he was willing to give me the chance to improve my knowledge base; didn’t make assumptions that I wasn’t capable of understand this new science; suggested a route I hadn’t thought of and also was willing to fund that route to help my career.

23/11/2021

Always fighting for your share of the work and essentially justifying your contribution is a type of bullying. Had a piece of work with 4 clear tasks and 4 people in the team. All tasks allocated to the other 3 with me being given a minor, admin type of task to do. When challenged PI reallocated immediately but why do I always have to put my hand up to be on the team when others brought in as standard?

18/11/2021